Dmitry Astakhov, RTA:
Passions run high in the political life of Ukraine and Moldova. In Moldova, a tough struggle for monopoly influence on the processes in the country continues between the ACUM bloc of Maia Sandu and Andrei Nastase and the Party of Socialists of Igor Dodon. After last Sunday’s local elections, there was no certainty in Moldovan politics, and today the mandate of the pro-European Sandu’s government and the fate of the entire new Moldovan government are at stake.
Meanwhile, in Ukraine there is an internal political struggle of a different nature. President Zelensky’s team, which has monopolized all levels of power, is now in an unenviable position. The “Servant of the People” can hardly take into account the interests of different socio-political and economic groups. The pro-presidential team is forced to find a balance between the interests of the Ukrainian oligarchs, countering radical groups without violence, taking into account different needs and desires within the team itself.
Internal political difficulties in Moldova and Ukraine narrow the corridor of opportunities for direct work to stabilize the situation in Donbas and promote negotiations on Transdniestria. This situation creates an opportunity for third parties, primarily Russia, to increase their influence on the processes in these regions.
In a recent interview the Ukraine’s Foreign Minister described some details that show that the de-escalation process in Donbas is in full swing. In particular, Vadym Prystaiko said that the Ukrainian side is aware of the proposals on the timing of the “Normandy four” meeting of German and French mediators. However, Moscow has not confirmed Vladimir Putin’s readiness to participate in a “Normandy Format” meeting or a discussion with Vladimir Zelensky.
At the same time, the efforts of the Ukrainian authorities to gather the leaders of all four countries are noticeable. After the general policy allegedly shifted to support the radicals, as RTA wrote before, the team of Vladimir Zelensky continued to prepare the withdrawal of its armed forces from the contact line with the military of Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.
Preparing exchange of prisoners between the parties to the armed conflict also contributes to creating conditions for a meeting in the “Normandy format”: Ukraine declares selection of candidates for the exchange, the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics give concrete figures: 52 for 85.
At the same time, according to Prystaiko, Ukraine is preparing a ‘plan B’, which is very likely to attract international assistance. Perhaps we can talk about the beginning of an international peacekeeping operation. At the same time, Kyiv will gamble not on an internal consensus for the sake of peaceful settlement and reintegration of the Eastern territories, but on strengthening the role of Ukrainian nationalists and, accordingly, ‘pridnestrovization’ of Donbas, fenced off from Ukraine by a peacekeeping shield.
Thus, the situation with the settlement in Donbas today largely depends on the position of Russia, Vladimir Putin’s readiness to take part in the Normandy meeting and the decisions reached following the discussions. Ukraine, apparently, adopted the proposed rules of the game, trying to sooner reach the next ‘checkpoint’ in the Donbas settlement with its actions and warnings.
The stakes are growing higher not only in Donbas, but also in Moldova on the Dniester. The failed 5+2 meeting in Bratislava revealed the unwillingness of the main negotiators of Chisinau and Tiraspol to reach a compromise solution to a number of pressing issues: traditionally, in the sphere of political settlement from Moldova and the solution of narrow humanitarian problems from Transdniestria.
Nevertheless, in a very short period after the Bratislava round of negotiations, the Moldovan side managed to adjust its positions and prepare its own version of the ‘hostage exchange’ in the settlement process. Moldovan President Igor Dodon assured his Transdniestrian counterpart Vadim Krasnoselsky of his readiness to stop the criminal prosecution of about 40 residents of the left bank of the Dniester.
It is difficult to imagine that a sudden warming in President Dodon’s attitude to the Transdniestrian problem and willingness to show flexibility in resolving problems in the interests of Transdniestria was possible without the outside influence. The Moldovan President’s preoccupation with preserving and increasing his political influence cannot be successful without the support of Russia, which, in turn, has its considerations about the Transdniestrian settlement.
If we discard the domestic political problems and the struggle for power, the situation in Donbas and Transdniestria are again synchronized through Russia: it is Moscow, and not other participants, that directly influence the processes of ceasefire and search for settlement formulas with unrecognized state entities.
It is expected and very predictable that Russia, against which Western players continue sanction policy, will try to sell its decision on the settlement in Donetsk, Lugansk and Tiraspol too expensive. The parties to the conflicts will have to solve the current minor problems and maintain a facade of a settlement, waiting for their fate to be decided either by chance or by a global agreement between Moscow, Washington and Brussels.
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